The Droid They’re Looking For


Obi Wan Kenobi - Digital Hermit

Obi Wan Kenobi – Digital Hermit

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I remember Patient Zero. My company was subbing a contract for a larger consulting firm and the project minder who kept tabs on my team had an early Blackberry. He didn’t sit down a lot when he came in. He’d stand there with his Blackberry, his coat still on, his neck hunched over, his face glowing,  and he’d just finger away at it for like twenty minutes like somebody in the Matrix back-office. I’d never seen somebody so locked into a device. The guy was never off of it. I had no idea what could be so important. But he laughed at his messages, got angry, talked to the phone, sent emails endlessly, and all the while he asked you about what you were doing without making eye contact. The project was going well; it wasn’t a big issue. But this is before colorful screens and YouTube and the end of actually reading books and all the rest. We’re so used to this now, it is hard to engage you with it, but there was a time when this was as startling to watch as the first few scenes of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This was before they called them Crackberries and the Android and iOS cartels moved in and forced the Canadians out.

My whole family’s infected now. We watch television and check our phones for the baseball score and monitor the sub-seismic movements in twitter subscriber counts, three or four smeared finger screens working at the same time. My wife, who I’d taken for analog to the bone, was snatched as effortlessly as the rest of the family, barely putting a fight up as the first wave of Facebook messages started to roll in. My daughter has angled her computer in the family room so that she can secretly use the iPad mini behind the blocking angle of the desktop monitor. These days we can  maintain a low-dose, micro-level of interest in the environment at all times, the vague promise of something genuinely exciting ready to reward us like the PowerBall lottery. The good news is nobody is ever “bored” any more unless they lose their charge or the WiFi signal is crap. We’ve cured boredom! Yay! Let’s give ourselves a nice iPat on the back. #boredomcured

I grew up in a home with no television. The quaintly progressive idea was that if we didn’t have television we’d read and play and build things out of Lincoln Logs, which we did. And my own children have had very little television growing up. In our house we roll our eyes when we pass a minivan with hooked-up video for the children in the backseats. We wonder about the parenting and imagine these children working at the french fryers in fast food chains. And we’re probably right: children who grow up watching video in the back of their cars and on the floor in front of the toilet will probably never make more than minimum wage. It’s just a fact. They’ll put video over the fat fryers to engage them, and they won’t be bored laboring away in Farmville. Whereas my children have read and played and built things out of virtual Lincoln Logs on their iPads.

There is a deep part of me that wants to go all digital hermit like Obi Wan Kenobi and be done with it. I want to surrender all of my devices and be good and live in the desert with books I can hold in my hand, that I can raise to my nose and smell the deep attic funk of all that unsearchable knowledge. I want to get up from the couch every fourth song and flip a vinyl record. I want to play chess on a real chessboard and knock over my opponent’s king with a flick of my queen’s wooden backside. I want to read a thick morning paper and a 6,000 word article in the Atlantic and grind my coffee beans by hand and shave with a straight edge and pay in cash using coins I’ve patiently counted out from my pocket. I want to say to the dark forces of the technological world that I’m not the droid they’re looking for. And I want the evil robots of Silicon Valley to repeat he’s not the droid that we’re looking for. But addicts will say anything when they’re high and none of it is true.

Because I’m the droid they’re looking for.

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Read this marvelous article by Rebecca Solnit.

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Twitter: @adambnathan

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